UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – It took only a few moments for Peter Uihlein to head to the corner of the 16th green, where he soon would collapse into his parents’ arms. “Happy birthday,” whispered his father, Wally, holding on tight as fans roared from high atop the sand dunes.
The gold Havemeyer Trophy at his side some two hours later, Peter Uihlein shook his head and smiled: “It’s definitely the best birthday present I’ve ever had in my life.”
Uihlein, a junior at Oklahoma State, delivered a commanding performance Sunday at Chambers Bay, beating David Chung, 4 and 2, to capture the 110th U.S. Amateur Championship – on his 21st birthday, no less.
Wally Uihlein (left) celebrates with his son, Peter, winner of the 2010 U.S. Amateur.
Uihlein never trailed in the 36-hole final, grabbing the lead with a birdie on the second hole and never relenting, in what became a dazzling display of power off the tee and creativity from the baked-out fairways.
He chipped in for eagle from just off the 18th green to take a 2-up lead into lunch, then extended the advantage to as much as 4 up as he made the turn for the final nine holes. He punctuated his performance with a 25-foot birdie on the 33rd hole and closed out the match on the drivable 16th, where Chung was unable to reach the green in four shots.
“It’s pretty sweet,” Uihlein said. “Definitely (to) add my name to that list of champions . . . that list right there is pretty special.”
With the victory, Uihlein earned automatic exemptions into a handful of PGA Tour events and next year’s Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. Uihlein, Chung and reigning NCAA champion Scott Langley also were selected to represent the United States at the World Amateur Team Championship, to be played in October in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“It’s obviously going to be a good year for learning experiences, playing with Tour pros,” Uihlein said. “Heck, I’ve only played one PGA Tour event, and now I’m trying to get majors under my belt. It’ll be pretty special.”
Special, too, was the moment Uihlein shared with his parents, Wally and Tina, on the 16th green after the final hole was conceded. Oh, there were tears. But Peter smirked when recalling the experience later: “I just said, ‘This is pretty cool, huh?’ And (my dad) just broke down and said, ‘Happy birthday.’ That was pretty special.”
When Peter was 14, he told his parents that he’d never be able to compete against the junior elite playing in the Northeast. He enrolled in the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., a decision that essentially split the family – Peter and mom in Florida; dad and his older brother, Jon, in Massachusetts.
Peter Uihlein explains what it feels like to the be the U.S. Amateur champion.
“I was fortunate to have everyone really embrace and accept the life we’re going to live,” Uihlein said. “It is dysfunctional; we’re not a normal family the way we’re raised, but it kind of helped me. I can’t thank them enough, because without them all this couldn’t have happened.”
Said Wally Uihlein, president and CEO of Acushnet, the parent company of Titleist: “There’s a lot of personal sacrifice. You don’t recommend that, but it worked for us.”
Uihlein, No. 2 in the Golfweek/amateurgolf.com Player Rankings, became the second player on the Oklahoma State roster to win a U.S. Golf Association title. (Kevin Tway, a senior, won the ’05 U.S. Junior Amateur.) That fact wasn’t lost on Alan Bratton, an associate coach with the Cowboys who spent the week caddying for Uihlein. Bratton needed to wipe away tears when reflecting on the experience at Chambers Bay.
“I just didn’t want to mess him up,” Bratton said. “Every amateur’s dream is to go win this tournament. And it’s just awesome to see one of our guys do it.”
Along the way, Uihlein had to dispatch teammate and former roommate Morgan Hoffmann in the quarterfinals. That loss was difficult for everyone with a stake in the proceedings. In the media room after the match, Uihlein answered questions solemnly, saying, “It’s bittersweet. I just took out one of my best friends.”
Uihlein had to knock off another buddy in the finals.
Chung, a junior at Stanford, arguably was the hottest player in amateur golf coming into Chambers Bay, having won the Porter Cup and Western Amateur in consecutive starts. He furthered his reputation as one of the best match-play competitors in the country with a thrilling, come-from-behind victory over defending champion Byeong-Hun An to earn a spot in the final match.
If not for a lackluster start Sunday, Chung might have authored a similar comeback against Uihlein.
Chung missed four putts inside 10 feet during the morning session but still had a chance to square the match after winning the 17th with a birdie. At the par-5 18th, however, Uihlein ripped a long-iron shot just left of the green and chipped in for eagle to take a 2-up lead heading into the afternoon.
“To take one on 18, to get the momentum going back into that second afternoon match, that was pretty big,” Uihlein said.
Still, there was work to be done. Frustrated by his ballstriking in the morning session, Uihlein headed to the range after lunch and pounded balls until he felt his weight shift from his heels to the balls of the feet.
The quick fix allowed him to open up an insurmountable lead.
After halving the first five holes of the afternoon, Uihlein seized control with birdies on Nos. 23 and 26 – the latter after Chung holed out for par from 118 yards after making a mess of the par-5 eighth.
Peter Uihlein and David Chung (Tracy Wilcox photo)
“That was pretty sweet,” Uihlein said. “That’s the way you want to win the hole.”
Chung added intrigue by winning the 28th and 29th holes, cutting his deficit to 2 down, but missed a 12-footer for eagle on the short par-4 12th that could have potentially swung the match in his favor.
Uihlein sank a 25-footer for birdie on the 14th, then watched at 16 as Chung pulled his tee shot left into the thick, tall fescue, bladed his wedge over the green and conceded the hole without reaching the green.
“Losing is just a bad feeling in your system, no matter what,” Chung said. “To come out on the bottom, it hurts a lot. It sucks. I’m grateful for the time that I won, obviously, but, you know, it doesn’t feel good (right now).”
The moment couldn’t have been sweeter for Uihlein, surrounded, again, by his family and many of the 5,250 fans who embraced the newly minted champion. “Happy birthday!” they cried out, and Uihlein doffed his cap in every direction.
As the afternoon sun finally broke through on the shores of Puget Sound, Uihlein signed autographs and posed for pictures on the 16th green, already embracing his role as amateur golf’s newest ambassador.
“The maturation process continues,” Wally Uihlein said, turning away to revel in his son’s 21st-birthday celebration that, on this momentous occasion, surely would last long into the night.